How To Start Your Own Clinic As A Registered Holistic Nutritionist?
There are many options for registered holistic nutritionists to build their careers, but the most common is to go into private practice.
In many cases, your goal in private practice might be to build your own clinic, but the steps to get there can seem overwhelming.
But we’re here to help.
Today, we’re speaking with Seung-Ho Jung, VP of sales & business development with Symbiosis, a medical co-working space that helps healthcare practitioners build their own private practices.
He’ll share with us some insights on what it takes to build your own clinic and how to make sure you don’t miss any of the important points.
Before You Start
“One of the most important things you can do,” says Jung, “is to talk to other practitioners who operate their own clinics. Get an idea of what they did to get to where they are, and see if there are any strategies that overlap with what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Obviously every clinic will be different, and older practitioners may have gotten to where they are by using strategies that are out of date.
So if they suggest buying a full page ad in the Yellow Pages, take that with, ahem, a grain of salt.
It might be a good idea to speak to a practitioner who started their clinic at some point within the last decade or so to get some more relevant strategies.
But what happens if they’re worried you might horn in on their territory?
“In that case,” says Jung, “you might want to speak to somebody a couple towns over – still in your locality, but far enough away that they wouldn’t be competition.”
You can also reach out to our faculty members here at Edison.
Getting Financing To Build Your Own Holistic Nutrition Clinic
So if your goal is to build your own clinic, your first step is going to be to take a look at the finances you’ll need to get the job done.
If you’re fortunate enough to come from a wealthy family or have recently won the lottery, you can skip this section.
But for the rest of us, you’ll have to consider the types of investors you’ll have access to.
Broadly speaking, there are three different types of investors to look at.
1. Investors You Know
“The first,” says Jung, “is the type you have a personal connection with. Family members, close friends, and other people you already know.
“Your arrangement with them tends to be more informal and can take the form of a private loan or an equity investment – talk to them and see what they need from you.”
2. Bank Loans
“Next, you have banks. They used to leap at folks with professional diplomas and degrees, but these days they consider your value based on an algorithm.”
And what’s the best way to beat the algorithm?
“You’re going to have to write a holistic nutritionist business plan – the more detail-oriented it is, the more you can prove to the bank that you’re prepared for dealing with hidden costs in starting your clinic. You can always hire a business plan writer to help you with this process as well.”
A business plan is a great idea even if you’re not going after financing – it can make the difference between a thriving practice and a struggling one.
But is it always a good idea to go to the banks first?
“Banks often tend to be easier,” says Jung, “because they have more of a set path. You can get a straight yes or no answer in a set amount of time. It’s more of a formulaic process.”
3. Private Investors
After the banks, there’s a third option as well – private investors.
“These are what you often call angel investors or equity investors,” says Jung. “They might be acquaintances, they might be complete strangers. Take a look at the angel investor groups in your area to see who might be investing in businesses similar to yours.”
What are the benefits of private investors?
“One of the big benefits is that it tends to be less risky. With a bank loan you have to pay it back with interest and in some cases even if your business fails, but that’s not true with an equity investor. On the other hand, they’ll usually end up with part ownership of your business, which can be frustrating. They also tend to need business plans that are much more detailed and the process is not as straightforward. They want to know how they will profit from investment in your practice, and you need to make that clear to them.”
4. Government Loans
There is, however, one other source of financing for your business.
“Most countries offer commercial loans for small businesses. Here in the United States where Symbiosis is, it’s a very detailed, but once you get the loan it tends to be very low interest.”
Which Option Is Best For You?
At the end of the day, each option has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Weigh them, and consider what works best for you.
“Money now is always better than money later,” says Jung, “but you have to consider the consequences as well.”
2. Choosing A Location For Your Clinic
When choosing your clinic location, you have to consider your area.
A major city is going to be different than a small town, obviously.
If You’re Starting Your Holistic Nutrition Clinic In A Major City
“If you’re in a major city,” says Jung, “be as close to public transit as you can. Even if you offer a service that’s generally preferred by middle class folks, you’d be surprised at how much of a difference this can make.”
It’s also important to consider your target market.
“Think about what other industries there are around,” says Jung. “If your target market is professionals who have access to employee health benefits, you might be able to run a stronger practice in a downtown setting even if the rent is a little higher. On the other hand, if you’re after younger, health conscious people, it might be a good idea to set up near a fitness centre or a health food store.”
If You’re Starting Your Holistic Nutrition Clinic In The Suburbs
In general, suburban areas don’t have as robust public transit.
“In that case, have good parking,” says Jung. “Easily accessible, close to your building, and preferably free.”
If You’re Starting Your Holistic Nutrition Clinic In A Rural Area
And what about practitioners who set up in a rural area?
“Look at where people congregate. It’s true that rural areas are more spread out, but there still tend to be town centres. Whether that’s near a grocery store, a church, a community centre, etc, being near these locations will make it more convenient for folks to access your services.”
Try To Be Near Other Healthcare Practitioners
Regardless of where you set up, though, it’s always a good idea to be near another practice.
“Don’t think of other practitioners as your competition. If there’s a place available next door to an acupuncturist or a massage therapist, this can actually be perfect for you.
“You can build your practice through referrals to each other. It’s not the only source of new business, but it can be a strong and reliable one.”
3. Approaching A Lease For Your Clinic
Negotiating a lease is one of the most time-consuming parts of setting up a clinic, and it can be the most expensive one as well.
Seeking A Commercial Lease For Your Holistic Nutrition Clinic
“A commercial lease will lock you in for several years, and can be tremendously expensive,” says Jung. “They tend ask for a minimum of five years, and in most cases you’ll have to do renovations yourself which can be costly in both time and money.
“This is often doable for a well-established practice, but if you’re just starting out it’s a big risk that might not pay off.”
Seeking A Commercial Sublease For Your Holistic Nutrition Clinic
“For a practitioner just starting out,” says Jung, “it might be a good idea to consider subleasing a space from a complementary practitioner.
Why is a sublease more desirable than a full commercial lease?
“Commercial leases tend to be longer term,” says Jung. “You might be locked in for several years, even up to a decade depending on the deal. In most cases, it means you’ll have to renovate the space as well.
“With a sublease, you don’t usually have to worry about that. You’re still beholden to the landlord through your sublease agreement though.”
Direct Space Licensing – A Medical Co-working Space For Holistic Nutritionists
A third option is direct space licensing, which is what Jung offers through Symbiosis.
“With direct space licensing, it works like a co-working space for healthcare providers
“You license space directly from us, which is much more flexible. You’re not beholden to a landlord at all.
“This is great for practices that are just starting up, since it means you face less liability. Licensing space from a medical co-working space also means the space will take care of most of the maintenance, upkeep, staffing, insurance, etc. so you can focus more on actually practicing.”
Which Should You Choose?
So with these three options, which is best for you?
“To choose, ask yourself these simple questions: how much money do you want to spend, and how certain are you that your practice is going to succeed? If you’re building a brand new practice, it can be riskier than starting off on your own after you’ve built up a clientele, so a direct space licensing or a sublease might be a better idea at first.”
You are at an advantage compared to other practitioners though.
“As a registered holistic nutritionist,” says Jung, “you have the benefit of not having to worry about a lot of bulky equipment like, say, a dentist might. You can get away with a smaller space and lower rent.”
Speak to a local commercial real estate agent to get to know some of the common mistakes when signing a commercial lease.
4. Managing Your Billing System
“Practitioners often underestimate billing,” says Jung. “But it’s arguably the most important part of your practice. After all, without billing, you’re not going to make any money.”
Most practitioners know that, at least intuitively, clients = revenue.
But it’s a lot more complicated than that.
The Traditional Approach To Healthcare Billing
“Many people think they know how to handle billing on their own,” says Jung. “And if you’re only seeing a few patients a week that might work, but if you want to see it as a business you need to address the fact that there are limitations to what one person can do for billing.”
The traditional approach is to hire an office manager, but if that’s unattainable for you right now, what are your options?
Research Healthcare Billing Software
“At this point, most people start looking into software. But you REALLY have to do your research on it. Some might work great for certain health practitioners but be terrible for others. You have to invest time and money into learning these software options. Take their demo versions for a spin if they offer them.”
What are some red flags to watch for when you’re doing your billing software research?
“Look into the software’s reviews and confront the company about them,” says Jung. “A bad review isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since billing mistakes do happen. But the company’s response to it will be a big indicator. If they’re honest about what happened and what they did to solve the situation, that’s okay, but if they try to minimize what happened, that’s a problem.”
Jung also warns to watch out for billing software that markets itself as “powerful”.
“You might think ‘powerful’ software will help in simplifying your practice’s finances, but in most cases‘ powerful’ just means more complicated and harder to learn.”
It’s important to remember that with software, it’s only as powerful as the person using it.
“The information you put into your computer is a lot like your diet,” says Jung. “Garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t know what you’re doing as far as putting information into your computer, the output will always be terrible.”
What About Point Of Sale Systems?
“POS systems also tend to be complicated and cost prohibitive for start-ups,” says Jung. “There are simpler options like Square that have popped up on the market, but they charge high fees, sometimes up to 5% of each transaction. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up.”
“That’s another place where Symbiosis helps,” says Jung. “We’ve worked with a wide variety of different healthcare practitioners so we know what software and what point of sale systems will work best for your specific practice.”
Auditing Your Holistic Nutrition Practice’s Finances
“I can’t stress this enough,” insists Jung, “you have to have a reliable way to audit your monthly financial performance. That means knowing how much money is coming in, and how much is going out.”
On top of this, it’s important to understand your revenue cycle as well.
“Revenue cycle management means where your money is coming from. Where are you getting your new clients? Is it through marketing efforts or referrals? If it’s referrals, where are they coming from?
“It also means why are they coming in? Do they just want a one-time consult, or are they looking for ongoing care?”
Learning A Second Specialty
“Machines have made it easier to keep track of your finances,” says Jung, but it still takes time. If you decide to do all your accounting yourself, you’ll not only have to put in the effort to learn how to do it – something people spend years doing – you’ll have to spend time every day keeping track of it.”
And that’s time you could be using to work with clients.
“If you’re working with clients for six hours a day, and giving your accounting the time it needs, you might end up working 12 hour days every day. That might be possible in the short term, but it’s not sustainable.”
5. Marketing Your Clinic
There are so many different ways to market your private healthcare clinic.
And naturally, with the digital world encroaching more and more into our lives, you might be thinking about online marketing first.
But even there, there are so many different options.
What’s the best to choose?
Search Engine Optimization For Holistic Nutritionists
As far as Jung is concerned, it’s SEO.
“SEO stands for search engine optimization,” says Jung. “It’s the process of getting your website to the top of Google. The key is to get your name out there in the easiest and most cost-effective manner, and that’s still SEO.
“Whenever anyone is looking for anything, they use Google, and statistics show that about 95% of people don’t go past the front page.”
But how does one get their website to the top of Google?
“There are hundreds of different factors,” says Jung. “I’m not an SEO specialist, so I’d strongly advise talking with a professional. We’re contracted with a company called Cloud Surfing Media who offers introductory SEO audit packages – that’s a great place to start.”
What About Social Media For Marketing A Holistic Nutrition Practice Online?
Of course, there are plenty of other options out there.
“Many new healthcare providers opt to start social media pages to try and build their following that way. It doesn’t hurt to have an Instagram or a Facebook page – they are free, after all – but unless you’re willing to spend some money on paid advertising on these platforms, you’re unlikely to be able to use it to grow your practice.”
What About Google Ads For Marketing A Holistic Nutrition Practice Online?
“Google ads are great,” says Jung, “but they have their limitations.”
The first is the fact that plenty of people won’t see them.
“Many people have ad blockers on their browsers, so you have that barrier to deal with. Younger people are more likely to have an adblocker, so if that’s your demographic it’s even more important.”
Next is the trust factor.
“People tend to trust Google’s organic searches – SEO – more than they do ads. They click on them more often.
Here at the Edison Institute of Nutrition, one of the continuing education classes we offer is the Business of Wellness Consulting course, where you can learn a variety of different ways to market your practice.
6. Managing Your Expectations
If you’ve just graduated, you’re probably getting ready to hit the ground running.
“Disappointments and frustrations are going to come,” says Jung, “but don’t let them drag you down. Failure is a part of life, and you have to be realistic. Adopt an attitude of being able to pick yourself up and start again. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure.”
At the same time, it’s important to understand how to shift your strategy.
“Know when to keep at it and when to pivot,” says Jung. “If something is underperforming, you need to know when to keep pushing and when to move on.”
But there’s a difference between pivoting and completely changing your plan.
“Don’t be afraid of your own vision of your clinic. If you have a clear picture of your goals, don’t lose faith. Your dream of owning your own wellness business is possible, but it might not look exactly like your dream. But if it’s 3/4 of the way there, that’s still a success.”
Building your own clinic can be stressful, but as a newly minted registered holistic nutritionist, you have tools to be able to ease your anxiety.
Contact The Edison Institute Of Nutrition
Are you thinking of becoming a registered holistic nutritionist?
If so, contact the Edison Institute of Nutrition today.
We’ll work with you to give you the best shot at a successful new career in holistic nutrition.